Monday, February 8, 2016

I Am Not an Amateur-crastinator

By David Sharp


I am not an amateur-crastinator. I'm a pro. I am highly skilled in putting off till tomorrow what could be done today. I have a natural aptitude for not being on task. In second grade, my teacher told my parents that I was shirking at a fourth grade level. They've never been so proud. Considering the subject, I feel a bit of a hypocrite for posting this blog on time. I really should have waited till Wednesday.

And this expertise impacts my writing as well. Or rather my not-writing. It seems like nothing makes me want to do household chores like scheduling time to write. I can't finish that chapter now; I've got to organize the spice rack! But you can't publish procrastination, so the disorderly spice rack will have to wait.



The good news is I'm not alone. A lot of you writers out there are equally skilled at delaying the creative process. Some of you, I'm sure, have an expertise that puts my own to shame. You really would have waited for Wednesday.  Maybe even Thursday. Maybe even Thursday of next week! So how do we squash a bad habit, when we're so good at it?

I don't claim to be an expert (at not-procrastinating), but I have collected some tips over the years that have helped me. And through the magic of comments, I'll bet a lot of you can bring some great ideas to the subject as well.

Roald Dahl's advice is to always stop writing when you know what's going to happen next. I've heard this quoted many times. Maybe you've heard this too. But I think it comes up a lot because it works. It is difficult to rev up the momentum when your creative engine has gone cold. Even pushing on a paragraph or two into a new chapter does a lot to help me pick up the pen the next day.

I have also found that timed sessions help. (This tip I got last summer at a workshop by Kerrie Flanagan.) Occasionally, I get the mental stamina to go on a four hour writing binge. It feels great, but there is a side effect. When it's time for my next session, I feel tired and uninspired. My subconscious has latched onto the idea that I'll be at it for another four hour stretch, and it would rather sit down with the kids and see what's happening on Sesame Street. Short spurts leave me wanting more, even if I do several in a day with breaks in between. Ending a writing session before I want to only makes me more eager to start the next one.

I grew up in the Texas panhandle reading John R. Erickson's Hank the Cowdog series. I got to see him live, and I remember he claimed to have a room with nothing interesting in it but a typewriter. (I was a kid at the time, so it was a typewriter) He claimed that when he couldn't convince himself to write, he could at least make himself sit in that room for an hour. Pretty soon, he found himself writing. Must work, because he's got 75 titles to his name. So chain yourself to your computer for an hour, and lock up all your browsers.

What about you? Do you have any tips to share?

3 comments:

Patricia Stoltey said...

I could teach a master class in procrastination. Maybe if I removed all the distractions from my little office (and there are lots of them), I could finally focus? That should keep me not-writing for at least a week. :D

April Moore said...

Great post, David, and I'm sure many of us (myself included) can relate. I really like what Dahl had to say--sage advice.

David Sharp said...

Thanks, April. I don't know many writers who don't struggle with procrastination on some level. Maybe it's because we're often gifted day-dreamers. Makes me glad there is so much good advice out there.

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